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      Marine Reserves Enhance the Recovery of Corals on Caribbean Reefs

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      PLoS ONE

      Public Library of Science

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          The fisheries and biodiversity benefits of marine reserves are widely recognised but there is mounting interest in exploiting the importance of herbivorous fishes as a tool to help ecosystems recover from climate change impacts. This approach might be particularly suitable for coral reefs, which are acutely threatened by climate change, yet the trophic cascades generated by reserves are strong enough that they might theoretically enhance the rate of coral recovery after disturbance. However, evidence for reserves facilitating coral recovery has been lacking. Here we investigate whether reductions in macroalgal cover, caused by recovery of herbivorous parrotfishes within a reserve, have resulted in a faster rate of coral recovery than in areas subject to fishing. Surveys of ten sites inside and outside a Bahamian marine reserve over a 2.5-year period demonstrated that increases in coral cover, including adjustments for the initial size-distribution of corals, were significantly higher at reserve sites than those in non-reserve sites. Furthermore, macroalgal cover was significantly negatively correlated with the change in total coral cover over time. Recovery rates of individual species were generally consistent with small-scale manipulations on coral-macroalgal interactions, but also revealed differences that demonstrate the difficulties of translating experiments across spatial scales. Size-frequency data indicated that species which were particularly affected by high abundances of macroalgae outside the reserve had a population bottleneck restricting the supply of smaller corals to larger size classes. Importantly, because coral cover increased from a heavily degraded state, and recovery from such states has not previously been described, similar or better outcomes should be expected for many reefs in the region. Reducing herbivore exploitation as part of an ecosystem-based management strategy for coral reefs appears to be justified.

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          Most cited references 6

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          An operational model for mainstreaming ecosystem services for implementation.

          Research on ecosystem services has grown markedly in recent years. However, few studies are embedded in a social process designed to ensure effective management of ecosystem services. Most research has focused only on biophysical and valuation assessments of putative services. As a mission-oriented discipline, ecosystem service research should be user-inspired and user-useful, which will require that researchers respond to stakeholder needs from the outset and collaborate with them in strategy development and implementation. Here we provide a pragmatic operational model for achieving the safeguarding of ecosystem services. The model comprises three phases: assessment, planning, and management. Outcomes of social, biophysical, and valuation assessments are used to identify opportunities and constraints for implementation. The latter then are transformed into user-friendly products to identify, with stakeholders, strategic objectives for implementation (the planning phase). The management phase undertakes and coordinates actions that achieve the protection of ecosystem services and ensure the flow of these services to beneficiaries. This outcome is achieved via mainstreaming, or incorporating the safeguarding of ecosystem services into the policies and practices of sectors that deal with land- and water-use planning. Management needs to be adaptive and should be institutionalized in a suite of learning organizations that are representative of the sectors that are concerned with decision-making and planning. By following the phases of our operational model, projects for safeguarding ecosystem services are likely to empower stakeholders to implement effective on-the-ground management that will achieve resilience of the corresponding social-ecological systems.
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            Trophic cascade facilitates coral recruitment in a marine reserve.

            Reduced fishing pressure and weak predator-prey interactions within marine reserves can create trophic cascades that increase the number of grazing fishes and reduce the coverage of macroalgae on coral reefs. Here, we show that the impacts of reserves extend beyond trophic cascades and enhance the process of coral recruitment. Increased fish grazing, primarily driven by reduced fishing, was strongly negatively correlated with macroalgal cover and resulted in a 2-fold increase in the density of coral recruits within a Bahamian reef system. Our conclusions are robust because four alternative hypotheses that may generate a spurious correlation between grazing and coral recruitment were tested and rejected. Grazing appears to influence the density and community structure of coral recruits, but no detectable influence was found on the overall size-frequency distribution, community structure, or cover of corals. We interpret this absence of pattern in the adult coral community as symptomatic of the impact of a recent disturbance event that masks the recovery trajectories of individual reefs. Marine reserves are not a panacea for conservation but can facilitate the recovery of corals from disturbance and may help sustain the biodiversity of organisms that depend on a complex three-dimensional coral habitat.
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              Ecology. Coral reefs and the global network of Marine Protected Areas.


                Author and article information

                Role: Editor
                PLoS One
                PLoS ONE
                Public Library of Science (San Francisco, USA )
                11 January 2010
                : 5
                : 1
                Marine Spatial Ecology Lab, School of BioSciences, Hatherly Laboratory, University of Exeter, Exeter, United Kingdom
                Smithsonian's National Zoological Park, United States of America
                Author notes

                Conceived and designed the experiments: PM AH. Performed the experiments: PM AH. Analyzed the data: PM AH. Contributed reagents/materials/analysis tools: PM. Wrote the paper: PM AH.

                Mumby, Harborne. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
                Page count
                Pages: 7
                Research Article
                Ecology/Community Ecology and Biodiversity
                Ecology/Conservation and Restoration Ecology
                Ecology/Ecosystem Ecology
                Ecology/Global Change Ecology
                Ecology/Marine and Freshwater Ecology
                Ecology/Population Ecology
                Marine and Aquatic Sciences/Conservation Science
                Marine and Aquatic Sciences/Climate Change
                Marine and Aquatic Sciences/Ecology



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